Disney and Lucasfilm clock up a fifth – or a second swan-song, following Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull |(2008)- shuttling grave dig for old-time archaeologist Indiana Jones (Harrison Ford) in what’s the first film falling under the house of mouse’s banner, and also director James Mangold’s charge.
The big arm on Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny might hint at a sweeping, action-clad blockbuster full of the kind of grant physical stunts Steven Spielberg’s original trilogy (1982, 1984, 1989) delivered but laying under the small arm, which granted doesn’t move quite as fast as it should, is a very different experience – a poignant, earnest tale that’s built more on cute and character than last crusades. And yes, that change might tick a few off (Apologies for all the clock analogies, but we just know you’re keeping, er, watch on this one).
Ford vs. Ferrari and Logan director Mangold, taking over for series staple Steven Spielberg, takes cues from the aforesaid X-Men spin-off here, whipping out a slightly sombre, less cartoonish thinking man’s movie that explores the unexpected themes of grief, trauma, ageing and purpose in great detail.
Here, we catch up with Ford’s Indiana Jones in the ‘60s – but not before a well-crafted prologue in 1944, during the Allied liberation of Europe in World War II, where the adventuring professor is captured by Nazis while attempting to retrieve a stolen artifact alleged to be the Lance of Longinus. Smarmy, sinister astrophysicist Jürgen Voller (Mads Mikkelsen) lets his employers know that he’s actually located the Antikythera – aka the Dial of Destiny – which gives the beholder the ability to find fissures in time. Escaping the bad guys, Jones and his accomplice Basil Shaw (Toby Jones), grab the Dial and hop a train.
We next catch-up with Jones in the modern-day, who is living in a squat apartment in New York circa 1969. He sits slouched in a chair, seemingly bored of life, and grieving the collapse of his marriage to Marion. He still works as a professor, but not for too much longer (he’s retiring that same day), but his students aren’t half as interested as what he has to say as was back in Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981) and its sequels. To them, he’s just an old, boring teacher who rambles on.
Enter Helena “Wombat” Shaw, Basil’s daughter and Jones’s godchild, and the woman who’ll inadvertently wake the retiring professor up from his slumber and that hat back on his head. She informs Jones that the Dial is now split into three parts and her late father went crazy trying to figure it all out. She needs his help – but merely for fortunate and not necessarily glory. And guess who else still wants it? Yep, old scumbag Voller.
A big theme of Dial of Destiny is time – and how it doesn’t wait for no man and further, serves as a platform for constant change. And the same can be said for the Indiana Jones movies. Since the advances in technology, we’ve seen the series transition into heavy CGI-fests, with many pieces looking like they’re filmed with but a few props on a VR backdrop. Unfortunately, that’s also the case here, with quite a few of the action set pieces – particularly those involving speed or lavish locals – noticeably bogus-looking. At the same time, Mangold – also guilty of using a little too much digital fakery on his Ford Vs Ferrari – has restrained himself a lot more than Spielberg did on the controversial Crystal Skull, clearly attempting a strong dose of practicality where possible.
What diverts attention from any technical flaws is the strong performance by Ford, here seemingly relishing playing his own age (now 81) while also injecting equal parts hearty emotion and humour into proceedings. – as if the actor too is using the vehicle as a heartfelt goodbye to his long-time fan base.
Female lead Phoebe Waller-Bridge (of “Fleabag” fame) is also good. Serving up a quality amounts spunk and physicality as Indy’s younger mirror self – albeit with some noticeable differences. And while he doesn’t have enough to impress any kind of voting committee, as he’s done in other fare, Mads Mikklelsen proves himself a sly, memorable villain.
Yet this is a movie that knows to rely on its strengths for the majority of its 154-hour runtime – and that’s Indiana Jones. And with Ford not asleep at the harness here as seemed with the previous instalment, making sure to remind audiences Dr Jones is still in there (if not understandably wobblier on his feet), it’s a temple of joy to watch.
Will the lengthy (the longest chapter in the series yet) ode to life and pushing forward, please all legacy fans? That may depend on what you’re wanting from an Indy adventure. If it’s something like the last instalment, which – despite some horrendous CGI and a not very thrilling plot – did deliver continuous action and laughs (albeit badly-written hokey ones), then it’s likely they’ll be arkin’ up over what’s on offer. If, however, fans come into the movie understanding it won’t be the Indiana Jones films of the ’80s (times have changed, as we’re constantly reminded in the script) but a sweet, enjoyable prologue to the franchise, you mightn’t wish to have a monkey pickpocket it from existence.